Epic MegaGames, Inc.
Epic MegaGames, Inc.
Editor / Construction Set
A text-mode action/puzzle game, ZZT already comes with a variety of game worlds. However, the real appeal of this game is the level editor with its scripting capability, which allows the creation of an unlimited number of new scenarios, stories, characters, traps, machines, and anything else players can think of.
From Mobygames.com. Original Entry
Subject: If you ASCII, this is the game that started a community
The four worlds included with the registered version of ZZT are Town of ZZT, Caves of ZZT, City of ZZT and Dungeons of ZZT. They can best be described as halfway between straight adventure games and puzzle games. Each world (and any created by users) also has a corresponding high-score file automatically generated for it, allowing for both replayability value and for players to challenge one another.
Sound and music are both done through the PC speaker, which would normally grow old in a hurry, but clever programming allowed ZZT to play a full range of notes that could imitate a three-voice system. It is entirely possible to insert lengthy songs with little more than some patience and a bare minimum of musical knowledge thanks to the simplicity of the programming language.
The graphical capability of ZZT is both minimalist and inspiring at the same time. Despite having only 16-color EGA graphics to work with a dedicated artist can create stunningly beautiful scenery including half-decent shading and animated backgrounds. Clever methods of combining colors into shaded gradients and changing the colors of objects, combined with the editors' option to export and import individual levels (called 'boards') allowed users to easily share their inventions with others who could in turn use them in their own worlds. Within a few years of the game's release users had created worlds that blew away the original four created by Sweeney.
NPC's in ZZT are either horribly limited or limited only by the imagination of the programmer and the memory limitations of the level itself. The four cookie-cutter enemies included in the game engine have interesting quirks but can quickly be outclassed by some clever coding tricks. Their AI and difficulty, quite simply, depend entirely on the level of effort put into them.
Speaking of programming the ZZT-OOP language itself is absurdly simple. Where other code bases have 'learning curves', it has a learning speedbump. Code is accessed by selecting an object on the gameplay field and brought up in a single window. Objects can be set to act with the same rules as other objects via the #bind command, given a unique name, called to initiate action by another object and do anything from shoot to end the game depending on their own coding. A limited number of flags can be set or cleared to trigger or prevent certain behaviors during play. Coding itself is done in very simple syntax that is readable by anyone with 6th-grade English skills. And that's seriously about all there is to it.
For all ZZT's undeniable inventiveness, it was literally obsolete before it was created because it used the exact same kind of text-mode "pseudographics" Kingdom of Kroz did years before. It would have faded into digital obscurity within a decade at the most had not author Tim Sweeney made a single bold decision: to include a fully functional level editor with the game. Not just the fully-registered paid version but the shareware edition of ZZT itself had a fully-functional level editor right there at the title screen by pressing "E", and learning to make your own world was shockingly easy. From its humble beginnings ZZT took off like the Space Shuttle, spawning literally thousands of user-made worlds from a community that went strong for well over two decades. ZZT became the game that made games to the point where Sweeney eventually asked for users to submit their own worlds to him and released his personal picks as the compilation Best of ZZT.
To say his fans were prolific would be a serious understatement. Even categorizing the worlds made by ZZT's numerous fans would take days at the least. They range from fairly straightforward puzzles to comedies to RPGs to horror to 'trippy' games that completely defy proper classification. A few even turned into massive multi-part worlds (Code Red and Evil Sorceror's Party being among the most famous) that soared over the bar set by Sweeney's original works in every way possible. Dozens of websites such as zzt.org sprang up to archive, review, share and discuss these worlds, some of which still exist.
In the years before external editors for ZZT were developed, a fair number of 'toolkits' were released which included specially created gradient colors, colored objects, and myriad other things that were fiendishly difficult for a new user to create with the built-in editor. This further lowered the learning curve for programming ZZT to the point where high school students could and did program respectably good worlds, even to the point of being able to pick a "schemes", colors corresponding to a specific environment, premade from a toolkit. For example if you wanted to make a desert scene, all you had to do was browse through toolkit pages until you found a board with the right shades of objects and backgrounds.
Around 30,000 sales later this obsolete-before-it-was-made game was successful enough to finance the production of a much more famous game, Jill of the Jungle, and from there Epic Megagames began its eventual journey toward fame and fortune. The last original disk copy of ZZT wasn't sold until one fan placed an order 2013, and several ZZT fansites and forums continue to post reviews of user-made worlds.
When the digital dust settled and all was said and done, ZZT ended up being far more than a game or even a game that let you make games. It became a tool that inspired budding young graphical artists, programmers, and writers. It drew together a uniquely quirky community of people with the same oddball sense of humor that were united by an incredibly simple program. And the best thing of all was that what you needed (the editor) was totally free - which put it squarely in the only price range many young users had. One could make some silly 'game' where the player killed Barney (this became a community staple), teach a class basic programming skills, have a contest to create the best world in 24 hours or write an epic tale of adventure that spanned multiple worlds. All without paying so much as a single nickel.
After a whopping twenty six years since it was first released in the days of DOS 6.0, the fandom is finally beginning to disperse. Websites have shut down and famous world-makers have vanished, some simply due to age but also due to the fact that just about everything that canbe done with the ZZT engine has been done at this point. But it says an awful lot that so many different people were willing to keep the fire going for a game that was years older than some of its users.
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